EGU22-12210, updated on 28 Mar 2022
EGU General Assembly 2022
© Author(s) 2022. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Characterising ice-magma interactions during a shallow subglacial fissure eruption: northern Laki, Iceland, a case study

Catherine (Kate) Gallagher1, Magnús Tumi Gudmundsson1, Thorvaldur Thordarson2, Bruce Houghton3, Birgir Óskarsson4, Robert Askew4, Rosie Cole1, William Moreland5, Valentin Troll6, and Guðrún Þorgerður Larsen1
Catherine (Kate) Gallagher et al.
  • 1The Nordic Volcanological Center, Institute of Earth Sciences, University of Iceland, Reykjavík, Iceland
  • 2Faculty of Earth Sciences, University of Iceland, Reykjavík, Iceland
  • 3SOEST, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, USA
  • 4The Icelandic Institute of Natural History, Garðabær, Iceland
  • 5Institute of Earth Sciences, University of Iceland, Reykjavík, Iceland
  • 6Department of Earth Sciences, Uppsala, Sweden

Iceland has the largest variety of subglacially formed volcanic edifices worldwide, given the extensive glacial cover during the Pleistocene and its frequent volcanic activity. As substantial parts of the volcanic zones are presently ice-covered, eruptions beneath glaciers are common.


Phreatomagmatic activity and flood deposits have been hypothesised for shallow subglacial fissure eruptions, at or within a glacial margin. However, to date, no historical examples that did not immediately break through the ice, resulting in dry magmatic activity, have been directly observed. Also, at dynamic ice-margin settings, no extensive resultant formations from shallow subglacial fissure eruptions formed in older historic eruptions have been studied until now. 


The final fissure from the 1783–84 CE Laki basaltic flood lava event in the Síða highlands of Iceland, fissure 10, provides a perfect natural laboratory to understand the eruptive dynamics of a shallow subglacial or intraglacial fissure eruption. Fissure 10 is a 2.5 km long formation, which constitutes the final phase of activity on the 29 km long Laki crater row, formed as eruptive activity from the Laki eruption propagated under Síðujökull, an outlet glacier from the Vatnajökull ice-cap. The resultant eruptive sequences display evidence of the increasing influence of ice when traced along strike from SW to NE, with the eruption transitioning to a predominantly phreatomagmatic phase with increasing degrees of lateral confinement. The sequence is dominated by volcanoclastic units, formed by multiple phreatomagmatic and magmatic phases suggestive of fluctuating water levels, intercalated with hackly jointed intrusions, hackly jointed lobate lava flows and debris flows. Repeating units of agglutinated spatter and spatter-fed lava flows cap the sequence, suggesting decreasing influence of external water with stratigraphic height and towards the end of the fissure’s eruptive activity. A thin layer of glacial till coats the top of the fissure 10 sequences. The margin of Síðujökull has since fully receded from the formation.


Our model for the eruptive dynamics of the northern Laki fissure 10 formation is based on field mapping, a drone photogrammetry survey, petrological observations and EMP analysis of glassy tephra and lava selvages to gain a full understanding of the activity and how eruptive activity progressed. The Laki eruption benefits from a wealth of previous studies on the magmatic phases from the other 9 subaerially eruptive fissures, to the SW of fissure 10, allowing for the effects of the glacier on this fissure’s activity to be isolated and defined.


Fissure 10 allows for an approximate reconstruction of the ice margin and glacier slope at the time of eruption, adding valuable information on the extent of the glaciers in SW-Vatnajökull in the late 18th century, and during the Little Ice Age. These shallow subglacially erupted deposits are the only fully accessible intraglacial eruptive vents, from a known historical eruption, on Earth. Detailed mapping and petrological analysis of deposits like these is important for interpreting landforms in paleo-ice margins, where transitional activity occurs.

How to cite: Gallagher, C. (., Gudmundsson, M. T., Thordarson, T., Houghton, B., Óskarsson, B., Askew, R., Cole, R., Moreland, W., Troll, V., and Larsen, G. Þ.: Characterising ice-magma interactions during a shallow subglacial fissure eruption: northern Laki, Iceland, a case study, EGU General Assembly 2022, Vienna, Austria, 23–27 May 2022, EGU22-12210,, 2022.